Keren Ritchie
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Rough, Tough, and Ready to Rumble

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Why Neil Macdonald will never back down

Neil Macdonald licks his lips and pats his hair gently into place. Sporting a slick navy suit, rose-coloured tie, and shiny brown shoes, he paces the room reciting his lines. Macdonald is taping intros and extros for CBC Newsworld’s Face to Face, a show that features interviews with passionate American politicos such as conservative queen Ann Coulter. When he’s ready for his standup, he crumples the script, stares into the camera through his black-rimmed glasses, and barks, “Let’s start.”

“Um, can you walk forward while you talk?” asks Ian Hannah, the cameraman.

“You want me to walk? Are you serious?”

“Well, just a few paces.”

“How many paces?”

“Just a few.”

Macdonald rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “What the fuck is this?” he shouts. “It fuckin’ doesn’t work.”

Marcella Munro, the producer, and Hannah start laughing. So does Macdonald. It all has something to do with a running joke about a missing jib, a portable camera crane.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” he grunts. “Piece of shit.”

After his first standup, Hannah nods, “Okay, that’s pretty good.”

“Pretty good?” Macdonald smirks. “It wouldn’t be a problem if we had a fuckin’ jib.”

The crew is shooting in the decaying Crystal Ballroom of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, which offers a panoramic view of the city, so Munro suggests filming Macdonald in front of a Catholic church that stands in the background.

“Ha!” he laughs and in a cartoonish voice says, “Then the Catholics will complain.”

At the end of the shoot, Macdonald comes up with a new title for the show: “It’s called, ‘Fuck Off, with Neil Macdonald!'”

Everyone laughs.

“It’d sell,” he shrugs, to more laughter.

The 48-year-old Washington correspondent for CBC Television News often cracks up his colleagues. Friends claim he’s even funnier than his famous comedian brother, Norm. He can also be intimidating – he’s six-foot-six, with a brawny build, a baritone voice, and a penchant for liberal use of expletives. “Being my size, all you gotta do is growl at people,” he says. Fellow reporters once dubbed him “Jaws.”

“He likes to stick pins in big, fat, balloon egos,” says Garnet Barlow, his longtime friend. Since his start in journalism in the mid 1970s, Macdonald has angered everyone from prime ministers to media moguls to religious communities. In December, for instance, the pro-Israel lobby group HonestReporting Canada (HRC) awarded him an “Israel conspiracy award.” Yet none of it has hurt his career. Many of those who despise Macdonald admit he’s good at what he does. His fans are even more laudatory. “He has an aggressive, trenchant style of reporting,” says David Halton, senior Washington correspondent for CBC News.

And it’s that relentless style that gets him into trouble. It’s also, some say, what makes him a great journalist.

To read the rest of this story, please see our ebook anthology: RRJ in Review: 30 Years of Watching the Watchdogs.
 It can be purchased online here


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